|Saturday, June 21
Updated: June 22, 10:44 AM ET
Fiscal climate cools hot trades
By Tom Wheatley
Special to ESPN.com
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- It was much ado about one thing.
The 2003 entry draft slogged along Saturday with only one trade that made a ripple. And even that draft deal was the worst-kept secret at every honky tonk the night before.
The Florida Panthers, as expected, shipped their first overall pick and a third-rounder to the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Penguins then pounced on the first and only world-class goalie prospect, Marc-Andre Fleury. In return, Florida got the player it coveted, Nathan Horton, at third overall. Florida general manager Rick Dudley also got a small premium: utility forward Mikael Samuelsson and a second rounder, 55th overall -- an 18-slot improvement.
That was actually a rerun of last year's opening act when Dudley sent the first overall pick to Columbus -- which took forward Rick Nash -- while grabbing the player he wanted all along, defenseman Jay Bouwmeester.
So Saturday's affair became a slumber party, albeit a noisy one, with a full house of Nashville hockey fans. Although, there were plenty of whispers about possible drama.
But Jaromir Jagr remained in Washington despite rumors that the New York Rangers would acquire him for either Eric Lindros or Anson Carter. Sean Burke, and his $4 million salary, remained in Phoenix, despite rumors that big spenders Philadelphia and Colorado -- as well as thrifty Vancouver -- wanted to plug their leaky nets. Expensive Tampa Bay goalie Nikolai Khabibulin also stayed put, as did young Martin Biron in Buffalo.
Blame the lack of fireworks on fiscal responsibility.
As Washington GM George McPhee said, "given the fact a lot of teams are trying to move contracts, and that this is a strong draft, no one wants to give up picks."
"Or maybe the rumors were rumors," said Scotty Bowman, the retired Detroit coaching sage.
Or maybe the rumors were on target but fizzled while airborne.
"You've got to have a partner, you know?" said one veteran scout.
By the end of the day, the Jagr-is-a-Ranger mania had played itself out and top-10 scorer Pavol Demitra remained in St. Louis. Demitra is a restricted free agent and eligible for arbitration. One rival executive said, "He's going to get a big arbitration hit, $6-or-$7 million. Not many teams can afford him."
Said a veteran scout: "Demitra's a top-10 guy in the league, skill-wise, and we'd love to have him. But we're going the other way in payroll."
St. Louis GM Larry Pleau was able to move second-line scorer Cory Stillman, who made more than $2 million last season, and veteran pest Tyson Nash, who is due $1.3 million next season. Stillman went to Tampa Bay for a second-round pick. Nash went to Phoenix for either a fifth-rounder this year or a fourth-rounder in 2004.
Pleau, who also picked up New Jersey outcast Mike Danton in a swap of third-rounders, denied dumping salaries. But he gave no guarantee that Demitra would be wearing the Bluenote next fall.
"Who's on our team?" Pleau asked, rhetorically. "If you ask me about anybody, I don't know."
Vancouver GM Brian Burke, a flag bearer for fiscal sanity, laughed off a rumor that he had wiggle room in his budget for a pricey goalie.
"If we had extra money," he said, "we're not going to spend it on Sean Burke. I don't know where that got started."
Meanwhile, one NHL source said the Colorado Avalanche were poised to do "a couple big things." Instead, Pierre Lacroix, the Avalanche stealth GM, walked off with a non-commital, "Quiet, eh?"
ESPN.com learned that a team in search of toughness asked Colorado about Parker, but was told the ruffian already was wrapped in another package. That package apparently came unwrapped.
Lacroix insisted that he was happy with his team as is.
"We drafted so many kids for a long time," he said, "so now we feel we have to give them a chance."
"I don't care what people believe," said Lacroix with a smile. "I just believe for myself."
Phoenix GM Mike Barnett, who has said since the March trade deadline that he's keeping Sean Burke, made one deal before Saturday's festivities. He sent defenseman Danny Markov and a conditional pick in 2004 or 2005 to Carolina for defensemen David Tanabe and Igor Knyazev.
That hardly upstaged Florida's pre-draft flip of its first pick to Pittsburgh.
Dudley said he could have rounded up more veteran help than Samuelsson from teams farther down the selection order, but the Panthers would not risk missing out on Horton, who topped their wish list.
"We had offers," Dudley said. "We did not want to lose Nathan Horton. We felt that we could make this move and add one NHL player who could help us and another second-round pick. That was very important to us."
The Panthers figured Pittsburgh would take Fleury and Carolina, picking second, would take Eric Staal. They figured right both times. Staal was rated the top North American skater by the NHL's Central Scouting Service.
"We were getting the player we wanted anyway," Dudley said. "If we were not going to get Nathan Horton in this draft, then it was going to cost a lot. And no one was willing to pay that price."
Philadelphia GM Bobby Clarke could not sweeten the pot enough to make Dudley swallow the 11th overall pick.
"I think Clarke felt that the asking price to drop to 11 was a little high," Dudley said. "He was certainly after the No. 1 pick, but again, everybody measures it differently and we were not going to drop to 11 easily."
Columbus GM Doug MacLean, content with the fourth overall pick, also flirted with Dudley.
"We talked," MacLean said. "It was a short conversation."
The lack of big trades had GMs joking among themselves. MacLean said he was approached by Burke after the Canucks chose Ryan Kesler at No. 23 overall.
"Do you like our pick?" Burke asked.
"Yeah, our scouts really like him," MacLean said.
"Do you like him enough to trade Nash straight up for him?" Burke asked with a twinkle.
"You've got the wrong team," MacLean cracked. "Somebody else got Tyson."
Tom Wheatley of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com.